BOSTON – Spouses of military personnel killed in the line of duty often face a heavy penalty if they decide to remarry – the loss of survivor benefits.
Several proposals heard by the Legislative Assembly’s Joint Committee on Veterans Affairs and Federal Affairs on Friday seek to change that by eliminating a state requirement that Gold Star spouses can lose their annual annuity and other benefits. ‘they remarry before the age of 55.
Gold Star spouses urged lawmakers to remove the requirement, calling it a “patriarchal” policy that has kept them from getting on with their lives.
Crystal Clunie of North Andover, whose husband, Navy Lieutenant Commander Joseph Clunie was killed in Iraq in 2014, said the annual requirement to certify that she has not remarried results in “anger and frustration “.
She said politics had kept her life and the lives of her children in a “waiting pattern” since her death.
âIt doesn’t allow me to live the full life that I know Joe would want me and our children to have – one that I promised I would find a way to provide,â Clunie said.
Widow Gold Star Maggie Brothers has said that forcing the wives of deceased servicemen to “tick a box” every year certifying that they have not remarried in order to retain their benefits is “patriarchal” and “insulting.”
“Would we discuss this even if the majority of the military population who served and lost their lives were women?” She told the panel. “If there were more men who lost their wives, would those benefits even be an issue?” “
Lawmakers supporting the changes said the state owed a debt to Gold Star families that could not be repaid and the remarriage penalty should be eliminated.
The state limits mirror federal laws that also require Gold Star spouses to forgo monthly dependency and compensation benefits if they remarry before the age of 57. In Congress, Representative Seth Moulton, D-Salem, a Navy veteran who has toured Iraq four times, introduced legislation to remove the federal limits.
Massachusetts has about 287,000 veterans, according to the VA, many of whom served in wartime. The largest group – the Vietnam veterans – numbered 108,438 last year.
The state enjoys some of the most generous benefits for veterans and their families, including state and local tax breaks, tuition assistance, and hiring preference.
Gold Star families, including unmarried partners of fallen service members, are entitled to an annual state payment of $ 2,000 as well as local tax breaks.
It is estimated that 2,400 spouses and parents receive the Gold Star Family Annuity, according to the State Department of Veterans Services.
Families also receive federal survivor benefits; The Death Gratuity Program provides a one-time, tax-free payment of $ 100,000 to eligible survivors of service members who die while on active duty or while serving in certain reserve statuses.
The Department of Defense also pays a life annuity based on a percentage of salary as part of a survivor benefit plan.
Lawmakers say these and other efforts are not doing enough.
Several of the bipartisan proposals heard by the veterans committee on Friday would increase the state’s Gold Star family pension to $ 3,000 a year.
Other proposals called for increased pension benefits, housing and educational opportunities for military veterans returning from active service.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at email@example.com